The current Republican party is like a coin. On one side, the head, there is Mitt Romney – cool, detached, almost robotic. On the other side, the tail, there are Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Glenn Beck, Rick Santorum, Ann Coulter and Ted Nugent. What people often forget is that they are the same coin.
Do I believe for a moment that Ted Nugent actually wants President Obama to “suck on his machine gun?” Do I take him literally when he tells NRA members to “chop” the “heads off” Democrats? No. He’s just doing his job and his job, like many on the right, is to be a professional asshole.
I’m not being dismissive of Nugent’s rhetoric either. Not only is he encouraging violence among a group of people who like to hide behind their guns, he’s preaching anarchy, an idea that is extremely romantic to some. He is encouraging violence. But the real problem with Nugent isn’t that he said the words he said. It is that he is invited to say the words he says. In a nutshell, Nugent is a distraction.
Mobutu Sese Seko of Gawker wrote a brilliant piece about racism on the right and the right’s reaction to the killing of Trayvon Martin. In the piece, Seko quotes the former RNC Chairman, Lee Atwater, who apparently had some sort of end-of-life “come to Jesus moment” of honesty:
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
Conservatism, by definition, indicates a longing for days past. The two essential facts that Republicans want us to forget are that the power structure in the United States is still largely white and male and that they are personally and financially invested in seeing that it stays that way.
Right after the inauguration of President Obama, I interviewed a white supremacist, or as he liked to call himself, a white separatist. While his words were vile, I found his candor almost refreshingly honest. He was proud to call himself a racist. He was proud of what he called “an innate instinct” to protect his own race.
Most people aren’t overtly racist. Most don’t wear hoods. Most don’t illustrate their points with the barrel of a gun. Most white people don’t hate minorities, but that doesn’t mean that the majority of white people believe that minorities are their equals. Most men don’t hate women, but it doesn’t mean that the majority of men (of all races) believe that women are their equals.
I’m pretty sure that Mitt Romney doesn’t hate women or minorities, in the same way that I’m pretty sure he didn’t hate Seamus the dog or the thousands of employees he has laid off during his career. He simply feels that they are less important than those who are white, male and most importantly, monied.
Ted Nugent is dangerous in that he could be putting a few lives at risk. Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Republican establishment are dangerous because they kill millions through legislation. In the last 10 years, 8000 people have died in Republican wars. Every year, 45,000 people die for lack of health care. Republicans loathe the idea of men marrying men or women marrying women, but they believe that women in abusive marriages should be left to their own devices.
In just one year, Republicans have introduced 916 bills which are designed to keep women pregnant and poor, a deadly combination. Women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. Romney is non-commital on the issue of equal pay, but his party isn’t; they are just fine with the discrepancy.
Racial policies have been more subtle, but no less damaging. Like Atwater said, they are abstract. In the United States, there are two clear sets of standards. When a white person wears a hoodie, it’s to stay warm. When a black person, especially a young man, wears a hoodie, it’s a sign that he’s up to no good. There are now more black men in prison than were enslaved in 1850. Many are there for drug offenses. There is absolutely no evidence that black people do more drugs or deal more drugs than white people, but they are six times more likely to be arrested for drugs and 11 times more likely to be imprisoned. The ugly reality of law enforcement is that if a police officer wants to find a reason to arrest someone, they usually will. They are far more likely to find that reason if the “perp” is black or Latino. The ugly reality of the judicial system is that white juries are more likely to convict a black person than a white.
Economic policies are even more dangerous. Any policy that benefits the wealthy at the expense of the poor will have a greater impact on minorities and women. Raising college tuition rates while lowering available financial assistance, impacts minorities and women. Cutting safety net programs impacts minorities and women. Reducing access to birth control and abortions helps create a cycle of poverty. Cutting back on teachers and police officers impacts minority communities.
The deservedly maligned John Edwards often said that there are two Americas and he was absolutely right. There are the elite and there is everyone else. All of the power and most of the money resides in the hands of just a few. Racist, sexist and homophobic policies protect that power. Violent rhetoric inflames the passions necessary in convincing a good portion of Americans that the racist, sexist and homophobic legislation is necessary to protect their own ways of life.
Ted Nugent, Rush Limbaugh and their ilk play a vital role in Republican politics. Compared to the crazies, the Republican establishment looks sane. As long as they look sane by comparison, they’ll have the support to pass any number of insane pieces of legislation.
That’s why Romney, when he weakly distances himself from Nugent and Limbaugh, only addresses their tone. It is the tone that he wants us to object to. He’s fine with the sentiment. As long as the elite can keep us hating each other, they get to protect their own power while legislating away ours. If there are a few casualties along the way, it won’t matter. We don’t matter.